October 03, 2008

Friday Book Recommendation: "A Champion's Mind"

Figured I'd make a recommendation for the new Pete Sampras autobiography, "A Champion's Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis." I was a little hesitant to pick up a copy of this book at the local library because I wasn't sure if the life and career of Pete Sampras could carry an entire book. Much to my delight, I couldn't have been more wrong. The sheer number of matches that Sampras has played and the span of his career alone gave him a ton of interesting insights and stories about life on the tour and the people he played against. Sampras literally could discuss every player on the pro tennis tour from the late 80s to today. When you think about the names that encompasses (McEnroe, Connors, Lendl, Agassi, Chang, Edberg, Goran, Becker, Courier, Federer, Roddick), you have the makings of a very interesting book.

The book is an autobiography, so you are basically getting Pete unplugged for 300 pages. While I am usually leery of autobiographies and the tendency for the subject to spend too much time discussing things that no one cares about (see the Digger Phelps autobiography), Sampras spends most of the book talking about what we want to read about: tennis. He goes through all his matches, his Grand Slams, his Davis Cup experiences, his rivalries, life on the tour, and his relationships with other players. Not only does he talk about his own career, but he really gives you some in-depth analysis of other players and their careers. It's always interesting to hear what some of these tennis players are like off the court, and Sampras gives you insights into the strategies he used against every big name he played.

While I always assumed that Agassi was his true rival (which Sampras confirms in the book), it was surprising to read about his pretty intense rivalries with Michael Chang and Jim Courier (two childhood friends). The Sampras-Chang rivalry dated all the way back to their early childhood in California. Could you imagine watching a 12 year old Pete Sampras playing a 12 year old Michael Chang knowing that both of those guys would grow up to be Grand Slam champions and legends of the game??

For you Roger Federer fans out there, Sampras mentions Federer in the book a few times and says that he has great respect and appreciation for Federer's game, but he didn't give you the breakdown of Roger's game that he gave for a lot of other guys (probably because he didn't play him that much). Sampras spends more time in this book talking about guys like Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Richard Krajicek and Thomas Muster than he did Federer. If you are looking for a lot of Federer discussion in this book, you aren't going to find it.

While I'll be the first to admit that I think Roger Federer will go down as the greatest tennis champion of all time, I sort of forgot about how many great matches that Sampras was involved in. Definitely one of the all-time greats, and he had some amazing matches.

This book is surpisingly entertaining. If you are interested in tennis and reading about the guys on the tour in the 90s/early 2000s, you will learn a lot in this book and come to appreciate Sampras and how great he was in his prime. I haven't read too many tennis books, but I enjoyed this one (although I have to admit that I really wanted to get through it to get to my next book - Boys will be Boys about the 90s Cowboys dynasty. WOW. Only about 50 pages in, and it's already looking like one of the all-time great books.)


Jimmy said...

Just added this to my X-Mas wish list. Sounds like a great read, though you didn't mention anything about how Pistol Pete wooed Veronica Vaughn - definitely one of the more underrated hotties of our time.

Also intrigued to read about the Cowboys dynasty. It will be a good reflection on how out of control the 90s was, in general. I'm pretty positive there won't be a similar exposee on the Patriots dynasty from this decade. All players have egos. Some manifest in different, destructive ways.

Thanks Counselor.

Stan said...

Long time reader, first time poster. Thanks for the heads up. I have contemplated this book and will now pull the trigger.

For golf fans, I finished "Arnie and Jack" this weekend and highly recommend it. Well written and informative.

Doug said...

Stan, thanks for the feeback. Good to hear that you enjoyed "Arnie and Jack." I really enjoyed that book. Hope you enjoy the Sampras one as well.

I'm planning to post a review of the next couple books that I'm in the process of reading, so stay tuned over the next month or two for some more Friday book reviews. These next two books both appear to be outstanding.